Paris Andrew, TIP’s Director of Partnerships and Engagement, is here to help gifted students. She used to run the residential programming at TIP’s educational programs, and she is completing a PhD in related areas, so she knows what she’s talking about.
I have horrible test anxiety, and I don’t know how to deal with it. When I’m studying for quizzes and tests, I understand everything completely, but I blank out while I’m actually taking the assessment. For example, in math class our teacher gives us test reviews the day before a test. I always do them because I know how important they are. But on a recent quiz, I forgot everything I had studied and looked over so many times. I mixed up the formulas and forgot the key words needed for solving word problems. I got a bad grade on the assessment. What can I do to stop blanking out during a quiz or test? – Victoria, seventh grade
First of all, I give you huge credit for recognizing the problem, naming it right, and having the courage to address it. That ability will serve you well in life. It also bodes well for your ability to manage this challenge. Congratulations on your maturity and self-awareness.
Secondly, based on the way you phrased the situation in your email to me, I believe that it is time for you to ask for help from some adults in your life. I hope you will take steps to do so. This anxiety is directly affecting your life and robbing you of the ability to enjoy your school experience and your academic accomplishments. You will need help to address it and support during the time it takes for the situation to get better. You may not always need help managing this anxiety, but you may need support at least as you move through high school and college. So now’s a great time to get started building the support system you need.
Know that you are absolutely not alone in this. In general, anxiety is all too common among people your age. There are many reasons why this is so, including a lack of quiet time and quiet spaces where you can center yourself and shut out a world that has grown very noisy and where every single anxiety-provoking event lands on your phone every morning — including many things you can do nothing about. I understand totally why this would increase anyone’s anxiety, including during common situations like taking a test. Fortunately, the manifestation of anxiety you describe — test anxiety — is in your control to manage.
Here is what I recommend: ask to speak to one of your teachers alone (choose the one you feel most comfortable confiding in) and let him/her know the situation. Explain that it is affecting your ability to do the best you can in all of your classes. Ask their advice on how to handle it. Then let your parents or guardian know about this conversation and the advice you were given. Ask their help in following that advice. If you believe that the anxiety might be coming, in part, from expectations your parents have for you, then you will need to tell the adults in your life that, so that you give them an opportunity to change their behavior as well as help you deal with this challenge. If you think telling your parents about this is impossible or ill-advised, you may need to confide in another trustworthy adult instead: the guidance counselor at your school, your pastor, an aunt or uncle, maybe even a close friend’s parent. Ideally, you will find an adult willing to step up and help you identify your options in tackling test anxiety.
With an understanding adult to guide you, you can evaluate some of your options and start taking advantage of them:
- Taking advantage of online resources to help you manage test anxiety. For example, if you search for “dealing with test anxiety” online, you’ll find advice from The Princeton Review, the Mayo Clinic, and many other reputable sources. There are tons of resources online to help, all of them with specific ideas you can try. I also suggest looking into the issue of perfectionism, to see if that might be one underlying factor at play here. Perfectionism is very common among gifted students and it can create great anxiety while limiting your ability to take appropriate risks or to feel pride in your academic abilities.
- Making a regular appointment with your school counselor or a trusted teacher to discuss your progress and to talk about what advice has worked for you.
- Keeping a journal about your feelings before and after a test. Track what steps you have taken to manage text anxiety and, especially, which techniques have worked best for you. Reviewing this journal — and realizing you survived yet another test and/or are making progress — can alleviate some of the stress you feel surrounding tests.
- You may need to see a professional about the situation, i.e., a therapist, ideally one who is skilled in treating young adults and/or anxiety issues. The challenge you face is shared by many people your age so it’s usually easy to find a therapist who has this speciality. Of course, seeing a therapist would require the involvement of your parents and respecting their wishes in this regard. But one thing that seeing a therapist can do is legitimize the extent of your anxiety. In some cases, if recommended by a therapist, students can receive extra testing time to help them deal with the panic and other symptoms that impair their ability to perform as well as they could on tests.
The good news? This, too, shall pass. It will get easier as you survive more and more tests. It will fade as you gain in self-confidence. And, of course, you won’t be faced with tests for the rest of your life, thank goodness. You can do this! Strength and courage to you.
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